At the COBIS annual conference in London, international school representatives reimagined an education without formal written exams – such as GCSEs and A-Levels – instead looking to adopt curriculums that are less aligned to a “very out of date assessment system”, COBIS chairman, Trevor Rowell, indicated.
“There’s an obsession with tests and examinations and there is far too little attention to developing the learning qualities needed for the middle of the 21st century,” he said.
“And even as we already have some profoundly well-developed edtech and AI is hurtling towards us, and with all that means for life and education, still we stick with the old systems which are very much 19th century.”
Barnaby Sandow, head of school at ACS International School Cobham, which offers IB and AP programs, noted that children did not complete GCSE during the pandemic.
“We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis. And we’re about to put thousands of children into a whole bunch of high stakes exams that they don’t need. Isn’t that child abuse?” he asked.
“We haven’t got it right in the international sector at all,” agreed international education consultant Matthew Savage.
“We may get those attainment grades, but the mental health and wellbeing of the kids in our schools is just as fragile, just as vulnerable as any of the schools in the UK. We’re at a point now where movement is essential… We either move back to a system, which I believe was broken in the first place, or we move forward to something new.”
Hayley White, assessment director at Pearson, nodding to a report into the Future of Qualifications & Assessment in England, said that it is “not revolution, but evolution” that the sector is looking for.
“What I would say in terms of where we go from here is a need to be assessing the right skills in the right way,” she said. “So for some, that will be an exam with a variety of different question types. Some of it might be portfolio or on-screen assessments. And I think that’s the challenge. How do we best assess what we’re trying to measure?”
“The conversation has got a lot of energy to it”
“Assessments and credentials from assessment are a currency and an asset that students use to go and get a job [or go to university]. Are those people then that use that currency to sift students just a bit lazy?” Priya Lakhani, founder and CEO of CENTURY Tech, asked.
Some at the conference highlighted that they are opting to teach a minimum five GCSEs, and adding more personalised curriculum via other courses, others choosing IB qualifications, which are accepted by universities.
Speaking with The PIE, COBIS CEO Colin Bell emphasised that a strategic goal of COBIS’s new development plan is to scope out how the association can work closer with higher education institutions worldwide.
“The conversation has got a lot of energy to it,” he said. “And behind that energy I think there is a real depth for a desire for change, but not change just for the sake of it. But change really to provide better pathway to success in life. And we all know that success isn’t just derived from your grades in assessments.
“But I think as well, it’s really important that for this change to actually take place and for it to be meaningful and impactful and sustainable, it can’t just be related to schools. It has to be connected to the higher education sector globally.”
“At the moment, we are preparing children to do fantastically well in a pub quiz,” Sandow added.
“If we want to prepare them for the skills that they need so they are ready to go out [and] survive in the work place… then we’ve got to stop thinking that the only thing that matters is whether ‘I’m better than you are’.”
Beyond the topic of assessments, international schools are seeing increases in admissions worldwide. Previous research has indicated that enrolment into international school groups has grown by 70% in the past five years.
Parents are looking at high quality British schools as an alternative to schools where they “may have not had the best experience for their children during the pandemic”, Bell said. Financial distress globally is leading to an impact on growth for mid-range price range schools in addition to premium schools, he added. The number of schools is also rising.
“There is certainly growth in Dubai, but that growth globally is around about 6% – that’s the figure that we get from ISC Research, but it’s not just related to Dubai or the Middle East,” Bell noted.
“We see great growth in the number of British schools that are establishing and setting up, for example, in parts of Southeast Asia, like in particular Cambodia and Vietnam. We’ve got a number of schools that are going through our accreditation process in those regions.”
One attendee from a school in Georgia told The PIE about seeing a small influx of families who had previously been in Russia, while another from a school teaching the IB curriculum in Mumbai said they had been benefitting from more teachers applying for positions from schools in Russia who had chosen to leave the country.
Teachers who may have previously also applied for jobs in China have applied for jobs at the school in India’s most populous city, they added. Teacher recruitment and retention continues to be an issue, but speakers also suggested ways of maintaining staff levels.
“We expect staff to seek opportunities,” said Jan Steel, principal – Outcomes and Standards, at GEMS Wellington International School. Staff must be engaged, prepared for development and schools should “ensure they are a part of the journey” of the school.
“We are going to lose a lot of excellent teachers if we do not become more flexible at work”
“How are you investing in your teachers throughout the school?” Joanne Standring, deputy head teacher – Learning & Teaching, asked. “It’s not just about the barbecue at the end of term, but how you are checking in across the year and having checkpoints.”
“The rest of the world has moved on. The rest of the world is working from home,” said senior teacher, Parmjeet Plummer. “We are going to lose a lot of excellent teachers if we do not become more flexible at work.”
One panel also shared statistics compiled by the Council of International Schools on wage disparity in international schools. In a sector where some 70% of workers are female, and only 23% of leaders are female, statistics show that there is an average $12,433 difference per year in wages between men and women.
The gap when it comes to ethnicity and locally hired staff versus internationally hired staff is wider still. White staff on average take home a $33,860 higher wage packet than non-white colleagues and internationally hired staff can expect $39,246 more per year than their locally hired co-workers.
Speakers also pointed to a Bloomberg exposé on racism in hiring practises for staff at international schools. One representative of a school in Saudi Arabia said that it was often an issue among parents.
“They say to me ‘this teacher is not British’, and I say, ‘well yes they are, they are from West London’,” the representative told the conference.